Mind control, fundicostal style: Part 3

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve spoken up here. But between the craziness with the shutdown and overtime at my day job, I’ve been squeezed for time to say the least.

When we were last here, I was in the midst of unwinding how the Waymakers used out-and-out brainwashing in their attempts to turn me into one of them. Back in 1997, while I was still trying to get my head around how the Waymakers bent my brain, one of my Ex-Tian compatriots sparked a discussion about Robert Lifton’s book about mind control techniques, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.” Lifton listed eight signs that brainwashing–or “thought reform,” as he called it–was being used to control people. Check them out at the resource page for REVEAL, a group of former members of the Boston Movement. In sum, they are:

  • Milieu control: the control of the environment and information within that environment
  • Mystical manipulation: Experiences and emotions are made to appear spontaneous when they have actually been orchestrated
  • The demand for purity: The world is divided between the “pure” and “impure,” with everything outside the group seen as “impure.” Members must change to conform to the norm and remain pure.
  • Confession: Sins and faults are confessed publicly, and used to exploit members.
  • The sacred science: The group’s doctrine is considered the ultimate truth, and no truth can be found outside of it.
  • Loading the language: Using words or phrases in a way that outsiders don’t understand, in order to conform thoughts to the group’s way of thinking.
  • Doctrine over person: All personal experiences are reinterpreted in light of the group’s ideology, with all contrary experiences interpreted so they can be fixed around the ideology.
  • Dispensing of existence: All outsiders are seen as unenlightened and must be converted or rejected by the members.

Several of the members recalled how their hyperfundie churches often used some of these same tactics. When I looked back, I was stunned to find myself checking items off the list. It reminded me that I had dodged a dumdum bullet.

I thought I could outline how the Waymakers played this game in one post, but it became readily apparent that one post wouldn’t nearly be enough–or readable. In Part 1, I talked about how they used milieu control and mystical manipulation as part of their mind-bending. In Part 2, I discussed how they combined the demand for purity with confession as part of that effort.

Here, I want to talk about Waymaker’s sacred science.

The sacred science

Waymaker grafted a lot of lunacy onto a charismatic/Pentecostal base. Like most charismatics, they were very much into the gifts of the Spirit and praise and worship. The impression that I got, though, was that they seemed to think anything less than being hyped up was lukewarm. Telling us when to raise our hands, ordering us to cheer after every song, the lot.

I shouldn’t have been surprised in hindsight. After all, KPIC’s statement of faith at the term considered the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be among the “essentials of the historic Christian faith.” I’ve since found out that, on paper, this is way, way, way outside mainstream charismatic thinking. Charismatics believe in the gifts of the Spirit, but also believe that having a relationship with the giver–God–takes precedence.

Sadly, though, I’ve found out over the years that this imbalance is actually SOP for many hypercharismatics. They think that non-charismatic churches are “dead churches.” For instance, Rachel in “Jesus Camp” harrumphed that non-charismatic churches aren’t really “churches that God likes to go to.”

However, Waymaker seemed to go way beyond even that imbalance. I saw that in spades with their willingness to condone some of the most despicable tactics in the name of getting people to join up. As we’ve already seen, the Waymakers hid a lot about who they really were, knowing that they wouldn’t have lasted six minutes in Chapel Hill had more people known their true nature.

It could initially have been chalked up to sincerely believing they were doing good–not unlike how Palpatine turned Anakin to the dark side by convincing him that the Sith were good and the Jedi were evil. For instance, when I was coming back from work as an intramural ref and saw one of my former “sisters” handing out flyers for that night’s Waymaker meeting. I told her that this was bad news, and she replied, “How can anything be bad about doing God’s work?”

But they no longer had that excuse once I told them how Pastor Ron had hidden his Maranatha past. Incredibly, they were still willing to do his bidding. The only explanation I can think of that makes any kind of sense is that they wanted to be part of what God was doing in the Triangle–and as long as God was moving, nothing else mattered.

How else do you explain how they were willing to condone Christina Roland being hectored like a pesky mosquito? I still remember how sickened I felt at the thought that I was supposed to be happy for her to have been saved–knowing she’d been essentially hounded into being saved.

Even now, more than two decades later, it still blows my mind–especially since I didn’t just tell them that I thought something was wrong. I told them that there was something wrong, gave them proof Pastor Ron was lying about his past. Was it so important to get people saved that they were willing to condone that? Apparently so.

That’s a big reason why when Trump rose up and the religious right stayed all-in for him despite his outrages, I felt like I was in a time warp. The religious right only seems to care about rolling back abortion and marriage equality and getting conservatives on our courts–and Trump’s debauched and potentially treasonous behavior be hanged. Likewise, the Waymakers were hung up solely on getting people roped in–no matter how many people got hurt. If your cause is so important that you have to throw basic decency out the window, something is bad wrong.

 

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Mind control, fundicostal style: Part 2

Back in 1997, while I was still trying to get my head around how the Waymakers bent my brain, one of my Ex-Tian compatriots sparked a discussion about Robert Lifton’s book about mind control techniques, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.” Lifton listed eight signs that brainwashing–or “thought reform,” as he called it–was being used to control people. Check them out at the resource page for REVEAL, a group of former members of the Boston Movement. In sum, they are:

  • Milieu control: the control of the environment and information within that environment
  • Mystical manipulation: Experiences and emotions are made to appear spontaneous when they have actually been orchestrated
  • The demand for purity: The world is divided between the “pure” and “impure,” with everything outside the group seen as “impure.” Members must change to conform to the norm and remain pure.
  • Confession: Sins and faults are confessed publicly, and used to exploit members.
  • The sacred science: The group’s doctrine is considered the ultimate truth, and no truth can be found outside of it.
  • Loading the language: Using words or phrases in a way that outsiders don’t understand, in order to conform thoughts to the group’s way of thinking.
  • Doctrine over person: All personal experiences are reinterpreted in light of the group’s ideology, with all contrary experiences interpreted so they can be fixed around the ideology.
  • Dispensing of existence: All outsiders are seen as unenlightened and must be converted or rejected by the members.

Several of the members recalled how their hyperfundie churches often used some of these same tactics. When I looked back, I was stunned to find myself checking items off the list. It reminded me that I had dodged a dumdum bullet.

Last week, I began outlining how the Waymakers played this game with me. I initially thought I could do it all in one post, but for the sake of readability I thought it would be better to do multiple posts. Read part 1 here, in which I talked about how the Waymakers used milieu control and mystical manipulation. Here, I’ll discuss how they used the demand for purity and confession in their attempt to pile-drive me into a round hole.

As always, names in italics are pseudonyms.

The demand for purity and confession

The more I look at it, these two criteria were more or less melded into one with the Waymakers.

Waymaker was really hung up on outward things and outward appearances. In a lot of respects, this emphasis conflated with how they tied up our time. Their idea of a “victorious Christian life” was a life almost completely without balance. Church on Sunday, weekly meetings on Monday, Bible study on Thursday–and everything else be hanged.

For instance, when I opted to attend the 1996-97 home basketball opener rather than a Waymaker meeting, Eric Syfrett wondered why I was willing to put a basketball game above “spending time with God.”  And even now, it still blows my mind how Eric disdainfully wondered about my priorities when I wanted to study for exams rather than go to church during exam week.

Waymaker’s idea of purity manifested itself in another way–hyper-conformity. I saw this when Loretta Tyson told me that a Christian can’t be pro-choice on abortion. It was brought home even more brutally soon after that, when Susan Van Arsdale warned that being saved meant junking everything that didn’t match with the Bible without so much as thinking about it–and implied my salvation depended on it. Two decades later, I’m still struck at how simplistic this thinking was.

The emphasis on external stuff also manifested itself via their use of what I’ve since learned is a very common kick in the groin used by abusive churches–Revelation 3:16 (“So because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth”). In their world, anything less than hyped-up and in-your-face was lukewarm. In essence, their idea of a “victorious Christian life” amounted to running in the red all the time. And what happens when you run in the red all the time?

For much of my first semester in Chapel Hill, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my “brothers” and “sisters”–especially the other freshmen–were watching me. It was no secret that I didn’t completely buy in. As they saw it, they just wanted me to become the Darrell God wanted me to be. They talked a lot about how God changes you. But in my gut, I got the impression that when that kind of change happens, you should at least be able to recognize yourself while it’s underway. After all, if you don’t seem real to yourself, how will anyone else think you’re real? Indeed, the only time I didn’t really feel like I was being watched was during fall break.

For much of my semester in Waymaker, the Bible study topic was sins of the flesh. We often talked about how we felt “convicted” of certain things. It was part of what kept me in that bunch even when I was almost 100 percent convinced that I could not be one of them. Was that feeling really me, or just my flesh? Looking back, it was just another mental contortion that kept me in that bunch for six months.

I saw this even more when I burrowed back into Waymaker in my sophomore year. Two of my compatriots told me that the reason I’d been Waymaker’s “problem child” for much of my freshman year was that I was relying on my mind rather than my heart. Supposedly, a rational mind can’t comprehend simple truth, and for that reason Christianity can only be done with your heart.

As it turned out, this was a repurposed version of old Maranatha shibboleth. Maranatha taught that the fall of man corrupted our minds so much that we can’t trust them at all. There’s a name for this–brainwashing. Even now, I’m flabbergasted at how blatant this was.

Mind control, fundicostal style: part 1

As I was getting ready to return to Chapel Hill for my junior year, I was still trying to get my head around how the Waymakers had tried to bend my mind. After all, on paper, I was one of the last people who would get pulled into a hyperfundie, hypercharismatic campus ministry. Here I was, a guy with a reputation as an independent-minded fellow–and yet, I’d come within a whisker of becoming part of a hypercharismatic hive mind.

What mystified even more was that even when I realized they were trying to turn me into someone I simply could not be, it took me a few more months to get out. And as a result, I lost the first six months of my adult life. I sometimes say that I was a member of Waymaker for 180 days, and was probably lied to 180 times–at the very least. But how did I stay in there for so long?

I got an idea how they pulled it off in the fall of 1997, when one of my Ex-Tian compatriots sparked a discussion about Robert Lifton’s book about mind control techniques, “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.” Lifton listed eight signs that brainwashing–or “thought reform,” as he called it–was being used to control people. Check them out at the resource page for REVEAL, a group of former members of the Boston Movement. In sum, they are:

  • Milieu control: the control of the environment and information within that environment
  • Mystical manipulation: Experiences and emotions are made to appear spontaneous when they have actually been orchestrated
  • The demand for purity: The world is divided between the “pure” and “impure,” with everything outside the group seen as “impure.” Members must change to conform to the norm and remain pure.
  • Confession: Sins and faults are confessed publicly, and used to exploit members.
  • The sacred science: The group’s doctrine is considered the ultimate truth, and no truth can be found outside of it.
  • Loading the language: Using words or phrases in a way that outsiders don’t understand, in order to conform thoughts to the group’s way of thinking.
  • Doctrine over person: All personal experiences are reinterpreted in light of the group’s ideology, with all contrary experiences interpreted so they can be fixed around the ideology.
  • Dispensing of existence: All outsiders are seen as unenlightened and must be converted or rejected by the members.

Several of the members recalled how their hyperfundie churches often used some of these same tactics. When I looked back, I was stunned to find myself checking items off the list. It reminded me that I had dodged a dumdum bullet.

So in the next few days, I’d like to list the ways the Waymakers tried to brainwash me. As always, names in italics are pseudonyms.

Milieu control

Basically, this amounts to control or manipulation of the environment and information within that environment. This usually amounts to controlling what you see, hear and read.

As you’ve already seen, Waymaker was a massive time sink. You were expected to be at church on Sunday, weekly gatherings on Monday, and Bible study on Thursday–and everything else be hanged. What if there was a basketball game on Monday night? Well, apparently that wasn’t as important as “spending time with God.” And if you wanted to study for a test or an exam, it looked like your priorities were out of whack. Um, what were we there for?

Lifton also noted that groups that engage in milieu control often set up an “us against them” mentality. This went on a lot in Waymaker, where we were constantly told that our friends looked askance at us “because of what we believe.”

Mystical manipulation

When this happens, emotions are made to look like they happened spontaneously, even though they have actually been orchestrated to look spontaneous.

From what I saw in Waymaker, it seems that hypercharismatic outfits wrote the book on this one. During worship, we were told when to raise our hands, and pretty much ordered to shout and clap after every song. Without a doubt, the most egregious example of this came when Perry made us start singing all over again because we weren’t hyped up enough. Moreover, most of the songs simply repeated the same lyrics three or four times. I recalled from my psychology classes that repetition is a very common form of hypnosis.

The goal was obvious–to make it look like the Holy Spirit really was moving there. But in truth, the whole thing felt so stage-managed. As they saw it, if you could cheer at Kenan Stadium or the Dean Dome, you could do the same thing for God. I knew this was baloney, being a yeller and a screamer by inclination. No one’s telling us when to cheer at a game.

This sort of manufactured enthusiasm is what sticks out the most about the Waymakers when I think back about my time in that outfit. But mystical manipulation can take other forms as well.

It actually started on move-in day of my freshman year. Perry told me that he knew God had a plan for me, even though I’d never even met him before–because God told him so. The odds are pretty good that he approached a bunch of other freshmen who moved in that day in the same manner, with the same schtick.

Early in my sophomore year, when I told Allison Millstein I wasn’t even a Christian anymore, she actually asked for my number in case I ever wanted to go to KPIC. It was supposed to look like the Holy Spirit had led her to do that, in hopes that I would eventually be on my face at the altar. But the reality was somewhat less dramatic. It turned out she just happened to ask for my number when another Waymaker walked up to us. Something prompted her, all right–but nine times out of ten, it definitely wasn’t the Holy Spirit.

 

How had the Waymakers gone wrong?

As I girded myself to prepare to haul the Waymakers to court at some point in my junior year, I found myself asking a question that I’d found myself asking a lot over the last two years–how had these guys gone so wrong?

After all, there was every reason for them to be a force for good in Chapel Hill. They were the only even remotely integrated Christian group at Carolina, for starters. On the face of it, the answer seemed simple–they had been planted in the contaminated ground of Maranatha Campus Ministries. Obviously, Pastor Ron didn’t have the guts to open his eyes and fully renounce those abusive practices. The result was, for all intents and purposes, a watered-down version of what Pastor Ron had learned while studying at the knee of Maranatha’s founder and “apostle,” Bob Weiner.

You would have thought that the younger set, people like Perry Burkholder and Morgan Bates, would have seen that such tactics simply didn’t work. Especially Perry, since on paper he knew how it felt to be relentlessly hectored about being saved. When I replayed the phone conversation in which he tried to get me to pipe down, I had to convince myself I wasn’t hallucinating. Not only was this not the way a youth pastor with any iota of scruples would react, but I thought that anyone who had gotten into Carolina would remember the lesson of the Nuremberg Trials–there is no such thing as obedience to an order that you know is illegal. That should have made Perry realize that there was a point where whatever obligation he had to obey his “shepherd,” Pastor Ron, should have been null and void.

But while trying to make sense of how I could have gotten pulled into such an outfit, as well as what made these guys tick, I got the sense that the rot in Waymaker was rooted in something more than just an inability to get past their Maranatha roots.

Much of that came from watching TBN and INSP. It may seem surprising to anyone who considers Charlotte to be “the buckle of the Bible Belt,” but TBN had long been relegated to a low-power translator in the Charlotte area. One episode of TBN’s flagship program, “Praise the Lord,” showed a funeral at which Rod Parsley and Eddie Long were the speakers. They actually had an altar call there. I was absolutely dumbfounded. It would have been unthinkable to try and preach at someone at a funeral or a wedding. But then I remembered that for the bulk of TBN’s audience, this was standard operating procedure. After all, they considered telling someone about Jesus to be the ultimate act of friendship.

That reminded me of something I read in “Don’t Call Me Brother” by Austin Miles, a former ringmaster who became an ordained Assemblies of God minister, only to walk out in disgust when he saw the steaming pile of corruption that was SOP on Christian television in the 1980s. When he first got saved, his friend Bobby Wilkes told him that he was to carry his Bible openly and proudly. Otherwise, he’d be considered “lukewarm.” It came from Revelation 3:16, in which God tells believers he considers lukewarm rather than hot or cold, “I will vomit you from my mouth.” It’s long been used to justify the notion that anything less than in-your-face Christianity will get you left behind.

I also found myself watching Parsley’s program, “Breakthrough,” fairly often. His version of the sinner’s prayer included the phrase, “Satan, you are not my God.” It brought to mind something I’d heard a lot of fundies say–if you don’t serve God, you serve the devil.

Putting this together with what I’d seen from the Waymakers, I had a better idea why they engaged in their bully-boy tactics. For instance, the manner in which Christina Roland was essentially hectored into becoming a 200 percent rabid fundicostal. They didn’t see it as harassment. They saw it as the ultimate act of friendship.

I also remembered how many of the Waymakers likened me to the Apostle Paul when I burrowed back in and made them think I had really become one of them. Even now, I’m still dumbstruck by the lack of proportion. On what planet was speaking out against the Waymakers the same as actually having Christians killed? The same planet on which anyone who doesn’t believe in God is a closet devil worshiper.

Putting all of this together, it was apparent that the level of fanaticism in this bunch was off the scale. It was also apparent that they knew they wouldn’t survive had they told the truth about who they really were. I believed that if I could simply get the argument out there, the Waymakers and KPIC would realize it would be foolishness to let this get to court. But how was I to know that I wouldn’t even get the chance to make that argument at all?

A fight that I could win–if I got the chance

The more I thought about it in the summer of 1998, I was convinced that if I did sue KPIC for its deceitful and abusive tactics, I not only would win, but the case might not even make it to court.

Consider that I had obtained what seemed to be hard proof that KPIC had grown out of Carolina’s chapter of Maranatha. And also consider that once I told the Waymakers about this, the campus ministers and the rank-and-filers not only blew it off, but had no qualms whatsoever about helping Pastor Ron keep up this massive snow job.

What is more, I knew that, at the very least, the campus ministers were willing to turn a blind eye to harassing people into getting saved. Even now, two decades later, it still turns my stomach that while I was pretending to have turned from my “rebellion” and was now a 200 percent rabid Waymaker, I was supposed to have been happy for Christina Roland essentially being hectored into becoming a Christian.

What parent with any kind of love for their kids would stand for any of this, even if they were fundified themselves? I thought that if this got out, more than a few of the Waymakers’ parents would have told their sons and daughters, “We’re not sending one more penny to Chapel Hill if you stay in this.”

That would have especially been true of the out-of-state families. And one out-of-state family in particular–that of Loretta (Tyson) Bates, wife of Morgan Bates. If you’ll remember, I suspected that Loretta’s parents were pretty fundified. After all, this was a black woman from Charleston who supported Strom Thurmond, for God’s sake!

But I figured that Morgan would have had to expend almost all of his moral capital (such as it was) to convince Loretta’s parents to let him marry her.

I figured their counterparts at State, Duke and Central would follow suit–leaving KPIC’s campus ministry as an empty shell. Remember, KPIC’s model depended on funneling college kids in through their campus ministries. Taking that away would have been like sawing a leg off a three-legged barstool.

Moreover, if this got out, I figured KPIC would have been squeezed from another direction. While burrowing into Waymaker, I learned that KPIC had plans to build a new complex near Research Triangle Park, complete with a huge new sanctuary. So they were building a coliseum of a thing on the backs of people like me. Lovely.

But I figured it would be all for naught if the extent of their deceit got out. The all-but-certain outcry would have been enough to make any responsible banker run away.

Even with all of this to consider, I still had to remember that this was the best-case scenario. At worst, the campus ministers may have known before I told them that KPIC had once been part of Maranatha. I thought this was highly unlikely, given that it would mean that Morgan and his boss, Perry Burkholder, would have had to have hidden it from their fiancées. While they were deluded and fanatical, they were definitely not stupid. But I couldn’t rule it out altogether. After all, this was an outfit that not only condoned Pastor Ron’s deceit, but had no qualms about lying about who it was in order to get people to join up.

But even if the campus ministers had known about Maranatha before I told them, there was enough that they and KPIC would have been out of their minds to let this go to trial. In my mind, I expected that they would be forced to admit their deceit–and that Pastor Ron and his friends would be pushed out.

I planned to at least put out some feelers after I returned to campus in the fall. More and more, I was convinced that if I could simply get the case out there, everything else would roll automatically. Little did I know that I wouldn’t even get a chance to make the case.

To sue or not to sue?

As my sophomore year wound down, there were a lot of reasons to be optimistic. I was finally getting into the meat of my major–and a few steps closer to fulfilling my dream at the time to be a sportscaster. More importantly, though, I felt like I’d finally been able to enjoy myself in Chapel Hill after having a good chunk of my freshman year stolen from me by the Waymakers.

There were also a few reasons to be disappointed. Any chance of a third straight year of the campus jumping from fall through spring evaporated when, in rapid succession, Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter gave up their senior years to enter the NBA Draft. With Antawn and Vince, the Tar Heels would have been an odds-on favorite to win it all in 1999. Even now, many Tar Heel fans of my era think back to what might have been. Had everyone stayed when they were supposed to have stayed, we could have had a starting lineup in my freshman year of Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Antawn and Vince. It’s probably just as well. That lineup would have been against the law.

But I had more immediate worries than worrying about the fortunes of the basketball team. I knew that the Waymakers had stormed through an economy-size loophole. Apparently a student group could not lie to university officials, but it could actively deceive students. Somehow, that didn’t add up.

I wondered–had I run out of options for holding them to account, short of shouting from the rooftops about their deceit and hopefully finding enough to alert their parents? But the more I thought about it, there probably was an option–suing KPIC.

Considering what I’d learned over the last two years–especially this year–a lawsuit was very doable. Remember, at the very least, I could prove that Pastor Ron was blatantly lying about his past in Maranatha–almost certainly to avoid getting the third degree about Maranatha’s atrocities in the 1980s. At the very least, I could prove that the campus ministers were perfectly willing to do Pastor Ron’s bidding even after learning this information.

I had to remind myself that this was the best-case scenario. At worst, it was entirely possible that the campus ministers had known this for some time before I told them and couldn’t be bothered to disclose that minor detail. I figured that if this got to trial, I would at least get a definitive answer to that question. But the mere fact that the best-case scenario was that the Waymakers had no problem with deceiving people was very telling.

I know what you’re thinking–why didn’t I haul them into court at some point earlier in the year? Well, you have to remember that I was concerned about them playing the persecution card. But by burrowing back into Waymaker, I had proof that everyone from the campus ministers on down was not only okay with Pastor Ron’s deceit, but were perfectly willing to help carry out this massive charade. That proof would have been enough to add Perry and Danielle Burkholder, Morgan Bates, Aaron Levinson and Rita Hamer as defendants along with Pastor Ron.

I also believed it would have been enough to keep control of the narrative–an important consideration when dealing with a fundicostal group. Instead of an innocent Christian group being persecuted, you would have a group that knew it was deceiving people.

As part of that effort to control the narrative, I didn’t let on about my plans to anyone. I didn’t want to chance the Waymakers finding out, and potentially being able to find a way to crawl through a loophole again. I knew they’d been caught unawares when I filed my complaint against them. After six years, and possibly 17 years, of putting kids back on their heels, it was fitting that they were the ones back on their heels for once. I wanted to keep it that way.

The more I thought about it, I believed I could force them into an out-of-court settlement. After all, the campus ministers were of fairly limited means. Perry and Morgan were newly married, and Morgan was married to Loretta, who still had two years to go at Carolina. Moreover, it was hard to argue with a Website run by Pastor Ron’s former friends at Maranatha.

That would also free me for my other junior-year ambition–running for student body president. The more I thought about it, these legal proceedings would be over rather quickly, so it wouldn’t hamper my campaign. When I first considered a suit, I thought I’d have to choose one or the other–and if it had come to that, I would have chosen the lawsuit, if only to make sure that KPIC couldn’t hurt anyone else again.

So as I returned home for the summer, I had every reason to believe that when I returned a couple of months later, Waymaker would be on borrowed time.

A debate that really wasn’t even a debate

So here was a little bit of irony. I’d been put through the wringer by an abusive and cultish charismatic group. Now I’d gone charismatic myself.

So I know what you’re thinking. If I was now a tongue-talking charismatic Christian, why would I want to take down the Waymakers. However, when I considered the facts, there wasn’t really much of a decision to make.

When all the hyperbole was exhausted, you still had a group that was based out of a church that had once been part of a notorious campus cult, Maranatha Campus Ministries–and whose basic character hadn’t changed a bit since that outfit had fallen apart. You still had a group who had no qualms about deceiving people about who they were and laying the guilt on thick, while preaching a brand of Christianity that sounded like an odd mix of the Borg, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and Camazotz.

You had a group that, at best, was still willing to keep this up after being told that their church’s pastor was willfully deceiving them about his past in Maranatha when there was no good-faith reason for him to do so. And at worst, their leadership may have known all along about their pastor’s deceit and didn’t feel the need to share that dBut such things as basic decency, and the prospect of losing their futures, didn’t matter. No, no–it was all in the name of being “part of what God was doing.”

You had a group whose leaders also doubled as their church’s youth pastors–raising the horrifying prospect that they were imparting this twisted version of Christianity to kids around the Triangle. You had a group that, at the very least, was willing to condone hectoring people about getting saved, even when they didn’t want to hear about it. You had a group that felt critical thinking was tantamount to a deadly sin. You had a group that believed anyone who saw this emperor had no clothes was only doing so because of their sinful nature.

And most importantly, you had a group that had almost certainly burned dozens of other people in their decade on campus under various guises, including for the last five-plus years as Waymaker. It was hard not to believe that a group this extreme had burned others–and had scared them into keeping quiet about it.

Either scenario demanded that this group be taken down hard. All together? Even though I was supposedly “one of them,” it wasn’t even up for discussion. For the sake of everyone this group had burned over the years, for the sake of all those who had fallen into the holes that Waymaker and KPIC had dug under them–I had to keep going. I had to expose them for who they really were.

Finding truth in the middle of lunacy

For the last two years, I’d been trying to figure out how I got pulled into an outfit like Waymaker. After all, on paper, I was one of the last people to get pulled into this bunch. I was an independent-minded fellow with a large support network. Indeed, to this very day, a lot of my friends wonder how I got pulled in.

In hindsight, I believe that they played on my desire to be accepted, to belong. However, as it became all too apparent, they were only willing to accept me as the Darrell they wanted me to be, not the Darrell I was–and to a large extent, still am two decades later. I suspect that they were used to getting people who weren’t willing to question what they were being told.

That was reinforced when I noticed the Waymakers fell mostly into two categories–they either grew up in charismatic/Pentecostal environments, or they had recently been saved before falling in with Waymaker. For the charismatics and Pentecostals, it was all they knew. The baby Christians were, with few exceptions, empty vessels–and were thus easily molded into simply doing what they were told.

Combined with the lunacy I saw on Christian TV, I initially wanted nothing to do with anything that sounded even remotely charismatic when I became born-again myself in April. When I saw people raising their hands, I got the image of someone snorting crack or lighting up a joint. After all, it seemed like God had become a drug to them. At the time, I thought, If this is what this “baptism in the Holy Spirit” does to you, I don’t want it! I even went as far as to call charismatics and Pentecostals “charismaniacs.”

But my journalist’s curiosity got the better of me. While trying to understand what made the Waymakers tick, I ran into some charismatics and Pentecostals who weren’t as off the wall as the ones I’d previously seen. It made me wonder–was there really something to this after all?

However, a few chats with one of my former Waymaker “sisters,” Jo Rumsey, seemingly confirmed my initial reservations. I initially thought that Jo wasn’t as off the wall as the rest of them. I thought she at least had a little humanity left in her, like Graciela Henderson and Elaine Danielson. Maybe it was because her manner was–at least outwardly–similar to that of my Myers Park friends, so I could identify with her. But during one chat with her on the phone, she asked out of nowhere to pray for me. More than 20 years later, I can still hear how she ended it–“I bind those forces keeping Darrell from the truth of God’s Word.” Indeed, I can still remember how she said it–“I biiiiind,” with the Alabama coming out in full. Later on, she told me that we had to accept certain things with childlike faith–essentially, blind faith.

I had a bit better luck with Graciela, She told me that speaking in tongues was edifying. There was definitely something to that. Graciela’s theology may have been ugly, as I saw when she prayed for the unsaved kids on campus to have a “famine” that would make them hungrier for God. But unlike the others in that bunch, something about her seemed real. Like the way she emoted (“praaaaise your name,” “ha-le-lu-jah,” etc.). I didn’t realize it at the time, but somehow I wanted that–if I could still be in the process.

That made me start exploring more. I seized on a couple of verses. First, 1 Corinthians 13:1:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love [for others growing out of God’s love for me], then I have become only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [just an annoying distraction].

And 1 Corinthians 14:5:

Now I wish that all of you spoke in unknown tongues, but even more [I wish] that you would prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater [and more useful] than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he translates or explains [what he says], so that the church may be edified [instructed, improved, strengthened].

That opened my eyes more. So it was possible to have that gift and not lose myself if I remembered to have love.

So one night in late April, while sitting alone in my room in Granville, I asked to be filled up. Remembering how one of my friends talked about how God inhabited our praises, I started praising–and to my surprise, something came out that definitely wasn’t English or French. Let’s just say it took awhile to come down.

In hindsight, I realize that this had actually been building up since December. I realize now that God was showing me what happens when you try to manufacture the presence of God. That’s something that’s stuck with me to this day–if the Holy Spirit is really there, there’s no need to prompt, to regiment anything. It was never intended to work that way.

So talk about irony. I got chewed up and spit out by a charismatic group. Now I’d gone charismatic myself.

Hoping to stay friends with at least one Waymaker

Well, it’s been awhile. But the Stormy Daniels fiasco and other outrages from this White House have had me occupied.

When we left off, I had just thrown a monkey wrench into another Waymaker attempt to evangelize on campus. They’d brought “Big Tommy” Sirotnak to town shortly after spring break, and I briefly shouted him down.

While this was happening, I was also in the midst of building a friendship with one of the few sane people left in that outfit, Elaine Danielson. After what I saw in Operation Trojan Fundie, Elaine was one of the few people in that bunch with whom I was remotely interested in maintaining a friendship–the others being now-graduated June Lawson and soon-to-graduate Graciela Henderson. It was mainly because she didn’t seem to be nearly as fanatical as the others in that bunch.

I’d tested the waters soon after I formally blew the whistle on my “brothers” and “sisters.” When Elaine emailed me to touch base, I told her that I’d burrowed back in to blow the whistle on them. Her response was refreshing. She told me that she was actually proud that I respected her enough to be honest with her.

If you’ll recall, I’d met her earlier in the year, when she was applying to join Heels 2 Heaven, a contemporary Christian choir. I was taken aback by how it was asking about her testimony. I didn’t know it at the time, but by then she’d already linked up with Waymaker. I only found out soon after I burrowed back into that outfit, when she congratulated me for having seemingly become a new person.

Not long after I burrowed in, Elaine told me how she’d gotten into Waymaker. She’d originally attended meetings with one of the bigger Christian groups, but didn’t feel like she was growing there. She happened to see Rollan Fisher handing out literature about Waymaker on campus one day, and decided to check it out. She’d initially been a little nervous, but one of the girls in there, Marina Delton, suggested she stick around and say goodbye to everyone.

Since then, she had been convinced her initial anxiety had been the devil screwing with her. When I heard this, I did a slow burn. After all, I figured the Waymakers were well aware that people who set foot in a hypercharismatic outfit react one of two ways. They either react like I did when I first went to what was then TCF, and wonder how quickly they can get out of there. Or they react like Elaine apparently did, and join right in. And once they saw Elaine joined right in, they moved in for the kill. And to think that as the “New and Improved Darrell,” I should have been happy that they played her in this way. The only thing that sickened me more was the thought that I should have been happy for how Christina Roland had been relentlessly hectored into becoming a 200 percent rabid Waymaker.

She later told me that she now felt she’d finally found a place that she could truly worship God. That led me to suspect that a number of people had looked at her funny when they saw her raising her hands. That’s understandable, considering that a lot of people’s picture of charismatic and Pentecostal stuff is the lunacy on Christian TV. It took a lot for me to get used to myself after I ultimately ended up going charismatic myself–in part because my only exposure to it beforehand had been on Christian TV and in Waymaker.

Despite this, I’d sensed early on that Elaine wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the rest of my “brothers” and “sisters”–including my fellow sophomores. It seemed that she still had some humanity in her. Unfortunately, I thought I fumbled it away before spring break. When I wondered why she didn’t feel like she was growing in her current group, she went off on me and told me she didn’t want to talk anymore.

So it came as a surprise when she emailed me again maybe a week after spring break. Later on, when we chatted over the phone, she told me that she was a little concerned with what she saw as “fanaticism” in Waymaker. Specifically, one of her friends had come with her to see Big Tommy. When she went up to be prayed over afterwards, several people figuratively jumped up and down and thought she’d actually gotten saved. One problem–she was already saved.

That didn’t come as much of a surprise. Remember, I’d been told that I’d walked out on Waymaker a year earlier because I hadn’t been willing to use my heart rather than my mind. As a result, the devil had supposedly used my intellect to pull me away from God and away from the people who could help me live a “victorious Christian life.”

I suspected that if they were already peddling this kind of claptrap, it was only a matter of time before some of the more reasonable Waymakers started having the scales fall off their eyes. Was this already happening? Unlike earlier, I had to wait and make sure. But if Elaine really was having second thoughts, I felt I had to be there for her, and show her that she had a real friend.

While this was happening, I was still trying to make sense of how I’d gotten pulled into Waymaker in the first place. While I got a few answers, there was an unintended effect–I actually found out for myself that there was something real behind the baloney I’d previously seen. More to come on that later.

Big Tommy comes to Carolina

Well, it’s been awhile since I posted here. But between the Stoneman Douglas shooting and some other things, I’ve been squeezed.

When we left off here, I was trying to find a way to keep the pressure on the Waymakers even after I’d burrowed back in and discovered just how crazy they were. I initially thought about reaching out to some of the more reasonable “brothers” and “sisters” in that bunch in hopes of getting them to turn on the others.

But when I learned that a number of my new friends in Campus Crusade had their own concerns about the Waymakers, it made me wonder if their six-year attempt to pull a fast one on Carolina’s student body was about to run aground. After all, despite their efforts to portray themselves as a smaller version of IV and Crusade, a number of my Crusader friends had seen and heard things in that bunch that they didn’t like.

Between this and the lunacy I’d seen first-hand, I figured that I wouldn’t have to reach out to the more reasonable folk in the Waymakers’ number. The way things were going, they were bound to veer into something that would eventually make a few Waymakers bail out. So I thought I’d just sit and wait.

In the meantime, the Waymakers tried to make more noise on campus. Not long after the case against them fizzled, they brought Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Adam Burt to speak at their Monday meeting. Burt had apparently become a charismatic Christian before the then-Hartford Whalers had moved south for the 1997-98 season, and had joined KPIC soon after the move. But it turned out to be a non-event. I walked by Murphey Hall after getting off from my shift officiating an intramural indoor soccer game, and the crowd was about the same size as it was for a regular Waymaker meeting.

Soon after we returned from spring break, I started seeing flyers on campus saying “Big Tommy is coming!” Later, I saw a more detailed flyer revealing that “Big Tommy” was Tom Sirotnak, a longtime member of the Power Team, a troupe of Christian muscle men who frequently appeared on TBN. He also had close ties to Victory Campus Ministries, Waymaker’s parent organization.

I knew how this script was going to run. Big Tommy was going to perform some feats of strength–like bust a few bottles or rip a phone book–then conduct a huge altar call in the middle of campus. Essentially, a larger-scale version of what they wanted to do when Bret Holman came to Chapel Hill in November. So how to change the script?

I mentioned this to a few of my friends on the Ex-Tian list. One of them mentioned that the phone book routine was actually a parlor trick. Apparently the phone book was partly ripped beforehand, making it easier for Tommy to rip it clean in two on stage.

Tommy showed up about two weeks after we returned from spring break. He was originally supposed to be in the Pit. I initially thought he was going to be in for a rather, shall we say, unpleasant reception. After all, Carolina’s students didn’t think much of stereophonic preachers.

But it turned out that another group had reserved the Pit that day. So much for that, I thought. But just as I was walking back to Granville for lunch, I heard the downbeat of Audio Adrenaline’s “Free Ride” blaring from Polk Place. To my surprise, the Waymakers had set up a stage near South Building, the main administration building. There was a decent-sized crowd gathered there.

Tommy took the stage–and started out with the phone book trick. At that point, two years of pent-up fury came boiling out. I yelled, “Fake, fake, fake! Parlor trick! He ripped it earlier before he got here!”

That threw Tommy for a loop. A few of my former “brothers” and “sisters” were stunned as well. They were trying to shut me up, saying, “Darrell, what are you doing?” and “You’re embarrassing yourself!” Perry Burkholder came over and told me to cool it if I wanted to stick around. But it was too late. I figure I planted a few seeds of doubt.

Apparently this gathering was a non-event as well. Not many people were talking about it during the week. It was just as well. With all the hype, you would have thought they would have moved their Monday meeting to a bigger venue. But it was in Murphey Hall again.

Would I have played it this way now? Probably not as vociferously. I probably would have crafted a Facebook and Twitter page after I burrowed back out of Waymaker, and used it to organize some sort of counter-demonstration.

It was the second time I’d caused a Waymaker function to go sideways, and the first since Operation Trojan Fundie. Somehow, I suspected it wouldn’t be the last.